U.S. Army just kicked Chinese drone company DJI out of all official operations

Image: Alex Segre/REX/Shutterstock

The U.S. army just kicked one of the biggest drone makers on the planet out of its barracks, all in the name of security.

The maker of the drones in question: China’s DJI (also known as SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd.).

An Aug. 2 U.S. Army memo obtained by sUAS News and later verified by Reuters advises that all service members “cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media and secure equipment for follow-on direction.”

Later, the memo gets more specific, stating, “Due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI product, it is directed that the U.S. Army halt use of all DJI products.” The advisory covers all DJI-associated hardware and software.

“We are surprised and disappointed to read reports of the U.S. Armys unprompted restriction on DJI drones.”

“We are surprised and disappointed to read reports of the U.S. Armys unprompted restriction on DJI drones as we were not consulted during their decision,” a DJI spokesperson told sUAS News. “Well be reaching out to the U.S. Army to confirm the memo and to understand what is specifically meant by ‘cyber vulnerabilities.'”

Last year, DJI addressed concerns from some regarding security, specifically as it relates to its relationship with the Chinese government.

“Some recent news stories have claimed DJI routinely shares customer information and drone video with authorities in China, where DJI is headquartered. This is false,” read the strongly worded April 2016 statement.

“We want to emphasize that DJI does not routinely share customer information or drone video with Chinese authorities or any authorities. DJI posts our extensive privacy policy online at www.dji.com/policy to be transparent about what information we collect and how we use it.”

However, in a section on the DJI website regarding its privacy policies, the company states:

We may preserve and disclose your information if required to do so by law or in the good-faith belief that such action is necessary to comply with applicable laws, in response to a court order, judicial or other government subpoena, warrant or request, or to otherwise cooperate with law enforcement or other governmental agencies.

So aside from the undefined cyber security concerns mentioned by the U.S. Army, DJI’s privacy statement could conceivably present security issues when it comes to missions involving the U.S. and Chinese governments.

But the larger concern for DJI is likely related to its business. The Army’s move is a major negative signal for DJI drone use and may influence a number of non-military operations who may follow the Army’s lead, the logic being: if it’s not secure enough for the military, maybe it’s not secure enough for our corporate or private needs.

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